Ají amarillo and lime marinated and seared ahi tuna provide the foundation for this Peruvian-Inspired Niçoise Salad. The classic Niçoise salad ingredients - fresh green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, eggs - get a Peruvian update with avocado, red onion, and a cilantro-lime-ají amarillo dressing. This gorgeous "composed" salad recipe is perfect for al fresco dining or any time!
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks - Recipe Inspiration
Obviously, a composed Niçoise salad is French, not Peruvian. 🤣 I recently started working on a causa de atun (aka tuna causa ) - a Peruvian classic dish that is typically made with canned tuna.
In the process of testing the recipe, I made the executive decision to do a tuna tartare rather than the usual mayonnaise and tuna salad mixture that you will often find in Peru. Causa rellena is a layered cold potato stuffed with various fillings; tuna is one of many.
I bought 4 pounds of beautiful sushi grade frozen ahi tuna steaks, and after testing the causa rellena (pretty carb heavy!), I needed a low carb option for using the tuna steaks. Lo and behold, the idea for a Peruvian-inspired Niçoise Salad was born!
With the exception of the green beans, I've eaten all of the ingredients of this Niçoise salad in Peru. The produce markets in Peru are amazing, and I would be surprised if green beans didn't make a regular appearance there as well. Tuna, radishes, potatoes (they have MANY varieties), olives, tomatoes, avocados (palta), and eggs (huevos) are all very common in Peruvian cooking.
So what makes this main dish salad "Peruvian?" The ingredients are fairly interchangeable with a French Niçoise salad. The Peruvian "twist" is in the ahi tuna marinade, and the cilantro-lime dressing. The classic French version has a lemon and herb vinaigrette. I created a cilantro-lime-ají amarillo dressing, and the tuna is marinated in ají amarillo and fresh lime juice. Avocado isn't common in a Niçoise salad, but is common in Peruvian salads!
🥗 What is a Composed Salad?
What is the difference between a "salad" and a "composed salad?" In the simplest sense, a composed salad is one that is arranged on a platter rather than tossed in a bowl. My Mexican quinoa salad is an example of a composed salad, though it is quite simple.
A composed salad is a perfect avenue for creativity - use the season's freshest produce, grilled meats, poultry, fish, or vegetarian, eggs, cheese, etc. A sprinkle of fresh herbs and a luscious vinaigrette or homemade dressing makes it an obvious choice for al fresco warm-weather dining.
This Niçoise salad is a little more involved than my Mexican quinoa salad, but it still comes together in under an hour with a little focus. The ahi tuna needs only about 30 minutes in the marinade. While it soaks, cook the eggs, make the dressing, and prep the other ingredients. Medium-rare tuna requires only about 4 to 5 minutes on a side.
Without further ado, let's talk about putting together this beautiful, fresh, composed salad!
🐟 How to Cook Tuna
I love medium-rare tuna in this salad recipe, but you can cook it to preference. Don't ruin good tuna by over-cooking it!
- Choosing sushi-grade tuna rather than "fresh" tuna is a safe bet. Sushi-grade tuna is flash frozen within a couple of hours of being caught. If you know your source, you're good to go. "Sushi-grade" means the tuna is suitable to eat raw. Usually (not always) that means it will be high quality.
- Thaw your tuna for 24 hours in the refrigerator to preserve the best flavor and texture.
- Sear the tuna on high heat, whether that's on your grill or on the stove. That means the surface should be 425° to 450° f.
- Cook 2 to 4 minutes on a side for rare to medium. Please don't overcook it!
- See How to Cook Tuna Steak for more information...
📋 Ingredients You'll Need
Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.
- ají amarillo chile paste - Ají amarillo is a Peruvian pepper. Some people think it's hot, but we find it pretty mild. I would suggest dipping a finger in it to decide for yourself. If you're uncertain, use the lesser amount of chile paste! You can buy ají amarillo paste on Amazon if you can't find it locally.
- limes - Please squeeze fresh limes. Bottled juice doesn't measure up!
- fresh garlic
- ahi tuna - Tuna is relatively high in fat and calories compared to less "oily" fish (halibut, cod, flounder). Fortunately, it is high in protein too. A 3 ounce serving of ahi (aka yellowfin) tuna has 118 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 25 grams of protein. My recipe specifies 8 to 12 ounces of tuna for 2 to 4 servings. This is a matter of personal preference! See Yellowfin Tuna for more information.
- salt and pepper
- ají amarillo chile paste - Ají amarillo is a Peruvian pepper. Some people think it's hot, but we find it pretty mild. I would suggest dipping a finger in it to decide for yourself. If you're uncertain, use the lesser amount of chile paste!
- neutral oil - You're probably fine with extra virgin olive oil, but I prefer grapeseed oil in this dressing with its more neutral flavor. Canola or vegetable oil are fine as well.
- dijon mustard
- shallot - Red onion is a good substitute.
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Peruvian-Inspired Niçoise Salad
- potatoes - I found "tiny" potatoes, and there was no need to halve them. If they're "new" potatoes, you will want to slice them in half.
- green beans - Haricots verts - thin, young green beans - are perfect in this salad, but alas, there were none to be found. Select thin, green, smooth green beans, and avoid wrinkled or limp green beans.
- eggs - We like a "medium" rather than "hard" boiled egg with a soft center. The choice is yours. See Perfect Boiled Eggs for more information.
- radishes - On photo day, I found multi-color organic radishes at Sprouts. I love colorful food! I'm making this salad again tonight, and I've got black radishes. Watermelon radishes would be great too!
- tomatoes - I keep tiny tomatoes on hand at all times, and a colorful mix makes the salad even more eye catching!
- olives - I use kalamata olives because I always have them on hand. A mix of olives is a great option. I love Peruvian olives when in Peru, but I've not been impressed with the Peruvian olives I've gotten in the United States. Olives are high in fats and calories, so use them sparingly!
- avocado Choose firm avocados that give a little when pressed on the stem end.
- Marinate the ahi tuna - Add marinade ingredients (lime juice and zest, garlic, ají amarillo paste) and tuna steaks to a zip bag. Knead bag to combine. Rest 30 minutes +/-, turning once.
- Steam the potatoes and green beans - I use a steamer, and cook them together. I start the potatoes, and add the green beans to the steamer about 15 minutes in. Total time is about 25 minutes for these tiny potatoes. You will need to adjust to your specific ingredients and preference. I like the green beans tender but not mushy. That takes about 10 minutes in the steamer. You may prefer to cook them separately. I prepare a large bowl of ice and water, and remove the green beans from the steamer and put them in the ice bath to stop the cooking process.
- Make the cilantro-lime dressing - Add all ingredients to a blender. Pulse until smooth. Check for seasoning, then set aside.
- Cook the eggs - I aim for "medium" boiled eggs, and I was pretty successful on photo day. Follow this Perfect Boiled Eggs if you need pointers.
- Prep the vegetables - Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise, thin slice the radishes, and slice or cube the avocados.
- Sear the ahi tuna - Remove the ahi tuna from its marinade, scraping excess from the fish. Season with sea salt and pepper on both sides. Sear the tuna on high heat, whether that's on your grill or on the stove. That means the surface temperature should be 425° to 450° f. Cook 2 to 4 minutes on a side for rare to medium. Please don't overcook it!
- "Compose" your Peruvian-Inspired Niçoise Salad - Slice the seared tuna, arrange a bed of lettuce on an appropriately sized platter. Working in sections, add the tuna, potatoes, green beans, avocado, tomatoes, radishes, olives, and eggs. Drizzle with cilantro-lime dressing, and serve the remaining dressing on the side. Enjoy!
Importance of seasoning and salt: I cannot overstress the importance of seasoning each ingredient as you assemble the salad. I love Maldon Sea Salt Flakes, and this salad recipe is a perfect use for them because the difference IMHO is noticeable. I season each and every addition to the composed salad.
I use slightly runny eggs - Hard-boiled eggs are used frequently in Niçoise salads across borders—typically either coarsely chopped or cut into neat wedges. As is true whenever we eat any style of egg, we prefer ours a little on the softer side—just firm enough that you can break or cut them open and the yolks won’t spill out, but soft enough that they haven’t yet taken on that chalky appearance.
What about the tuna? The tuna is not served hot, so it doesn't need to be done immediately prior to serving. You may choose to serve it room temperature or cold. If not using it immediately, be sure to place it in the refrigerator. You can use canned tuna, but select a good quality (preferably) Italian packed in oil.
What is ají amarillo? Ají amarillo is a Peruvian pepper. Some people think it's hot, but we find it pretty mild. I would suggest dipping a finger in it to decide for yourself. If you're uncertain, use the lesser amount of chile paste! You can buy ají amarillo paste on Amazon if you can't find it locally.
🍷 Pairing Suggestions
My husband and I are always looking for healthy, low carb meals, and this main dish salad definitely qualifies. If you feel inclined, enjoy a slice of baguette or a warm tortilla.
Given our year 'round summer in McAllen, Texas, a rosé is always a great choice, and it pairs beautifully with this salad. On photo day, we opened a bottle of rosé that my husband made last summer, and it was perfect!
It's mid-March, and patio dining is fast approaching... I hope you'll give this healthy, gorgeous composed main dish salad a try at the first opportunity! Cheers!
Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. This helps to offset the costs of maintaining my blog and creating awesome content! 😊